When Characters Mutiny

I’ve got my plot outlined. World-building done. Research underway. Character bios are complete. Despite the distracting news on the television, I’ve written 23k words. I’ve got a cover concept, a rough draft of a blurb. Things are sailing along.

Then…

One of my minor characters, Briar, has decided to stage a mutiny. He has a cutlass pointed at my progress, and he’s walking it up the plank.

He’s called a meeting on the quarter deck of the Windwraith. All the main characters are there, wondering why the wind in our sails suddenly died. I leave the helm and join them, arms crossed as I lean on the mizzen mast.

Briar’s pacing, eager to explain his reasons for the summons. He looks right at me. “Listen, Peach, this course you’ve charted needs some revising.”

I roll my eyes. Here we go again.

“Hear me out,” he says. “I think you’re making a mistake if you let the ferryman throw me overboard in Chapter Six.”

“Hmm,” I reply.

“You might not have meant to do it, but you’ve made me interesting. I’m nuanced.” He turns to address the rest of the crew. ”Okay, I’m a little lazy and a bit of a bully, but I have a heroic side.”

The crew chuckles as he faces me. “I’m actually younger than you first envisioned me, and I have startling blue eyes. I’ve also got all my teeth, which you can’t say for Kezo.”

The first mate smiles at me, flashing his gold tooth. I groan inwardly at the clinches. Those are coming out as soon as this irksome rebellion is over.

Briar grins. “You made me the perfect choice for some romantic tension with Marissa.”

I glance at Marissa. She shrugs. “Fine by me. It’s not really a romantic story anyway.”

“Wait,” I say. “Before you all get carried away. I’m eleven chapters in. You’re asking for some significant revisions here. If I give Briar the role, what do I do with Kellin? He was supposed to fall for Marissa.”

Briar makes a pffting noise. “That kid is too young, too naïve.” He gives Kellin an apologetic wince, then puts the blame on me. “It’s just not the right story for him. He’s like a little brother. Marissa would never fall for him. The relationship will feel forced. Your readers won’t believe it.”

Kellin sighs and rakes back his flyaway blond hair. “I kind of agree with him. You wrote me about four years too young.”

I’m tempted to argue that I wrote him exactly the way he is, but it’s not the time for a chicken/egg debate with a bunch of mutineers. And to be honest, I kind of agree that Kellin isn’t strong enough for the part.

“You know, Kellin,” I say, “if I make this change, I’ll have to kill you off.”

Briar puts on a sad face as shallow as a tide pool. “Instead of rescuing him in Chapter Eight, you could have him get shot with a pistol, fall into the sea, and drown.”

Kellin frowns at the suggestion. “She doesn’t have any pistols in the story.”

“She has to revise anyway. She can add them in.” Briar leans against the gunwale, his case made.

I narrow my eyes at him, feeling a bit shanghaied, but he’s made a few good points, and the changes feel right. None of the crew looks miffed. Even Kellin seems to understand that his death would make a better story. He’s a nice kid… Readers will feel the loss.

“Fine,” I say. “I need to go back and plot the changes before we sail any farther into the Deep. Shore leave is cancelled until we’ve caught up.” I gesture to the first mate. “Brace about. We’re changing course.”

As the big man takes the wheel and bellows orders to the crew, I retreat to my cabin. I log into Word and scroll back to Chapter One. Then I open the internet and look up everything I ever wanted to know about flintlock pistols.

(Names have been changed to minimize spoilers).

Do your characters do this to you?

LIARS AND THIEVES: A BOOK REVIEW

Annika’s reviews are like a dream come true for authors. I stumbled on her review of Liars and Thieves when I logged on this morning. Had to share! And don’t worry – it’s spoiler free. Thank you, my friend.

Annika Perry

A world is held together with the most tenuous alliance. A world like no other and inhabited by three races; elves, goblins and changelings. Together they’ve kept the peace in Borderland, yet its thin veneer is threatened as the dark force of Chaos seeks to overthrow the land. However, its leader, Kalann il Drakk, must first penetrate the shimmering border wall, the Veil.

With excitement, I was propelled into ‘Liars and Thieves (Unraveling the Veil Book 1) and into the midst of Drakk and his force’s attack on the Veil. Its electrical energy is as powerful as the writing. Although the attack ultimately fails, seeds of Chaos are planted through the wall … although the reader is left in doubt about its format.

From this dramatic beginning, the book, the first of a trilogy, becomes increasing captivating as the story unfolds through chapters centred on three misfit characters who dominate…

View original post 604 more words

Meet the Author: D. Wallace Peach

I’m over at Jonny Pongratz’s blog today, Jaunts & Haunts. We’re chatting about super powers, blogging, writing, and books. If you have a minute, stop by and say hello. While you’re visiting, be sure to check out Jonny’s wonderful blog and sci-fi books.

****

Good morning world!

Today I’m stopping by with the first author interview of 2021, and I’m having it with D. Wallace Peach, fantasy author.

I got to know her through other WordPress author friends late last year as well as GoodReads. She is currently celebrating the latest release in her trilogy Unraveling the Veil.

Welcome, Diana!

D. Wallace Peach

Bio:

D. Wallace Peach started writing later in life after the kids were grown and a move left her with hours to fill. Years of working in business surrendered to a full-time indulgence in the imaginative world of books, and when she started writing, she was instantly hooked. Diana lives in a log cabin amongst the tall evergreens and emerald moss of Oregon’s rainforest with her husband, two owls, a horde of bats, and the occasional family of coyotes.

The Interview

Hi Diana, thanks so much for stopping by. To keep things interesting, I like to ask my interviewees a random question to get the blood flowing. Here’s yours!
A spaceship comes crashing out of the sky into your backyard. As a last act of kindness, the alien is willing to bestow upon you any power you choose. What is your decision?

Diana: Hi, Jonny. Thanks for having me over at Jaunts and Haunts, and for the great questions. As I read through your options, I came to the conclusion that I’m a total scaredy cat! Lol. No chance that I’m going to time travel, walk through mysterious portals, battle zombies, or spend a lifetime fleeing demons. So, I went with the softball question above.

I’d request the power to heal through a mere touch. That would be most satisfying. I’d start with children’s hospitals and go from there. I’d be invading everyone’s personal space right and left. Strangers would be mortified at my touchy-feely friendliness, and I’d probably be told off a few times, but I wouldn’t care. And I’d keep my power a complete secret, so I wouldn’t have to run from nefarious characters and secret government agencies who’d want to capture me and control my talent.

Jonny: Thanks, and welcome! Haha, no worries about going the more peaceful route. Many of the potential situations I came up with are kinda scary. 

I love your choice of power. That’s very selfless of you, and I think this world could use the healing now more than ever, even if you’re knocking down doors saying “Hey, I’ve got a bone to pick with your medical condition. Let me in!” Good choice to lay low. Superheroes may sound great on paper, but I think people would covet that ability of yours and things may take a turn for the worse. 

Today I’m gonna go escapist and wish for multiplicity. I’d multiply myself several times over to do things like work and run errands, while the true me would just sit back and relax. Of course, I’d take turns to ensure the other me’s are content, but life would be such a breeze! 

Diana and the Writing Process

(Continue reading at Jaunts & Haunts)

I closed comments here (late – oops). 😀 See you at Jonny’s.

Goodbye Traditional, Hello Indie (Part I)

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A few blog friends and authors have asked about my decision in 2015 to switch from traditional to indie publishing. I thought it might be interesting to share a trio of posts about the factors that informed my decision. These posts are five years old, but my opinion remains the same. If this post, Part I, captures your attention, you can follow the link below to the 2nd and 3rd in the series.

Part I: Pros of traditional publishing

Part II: Cons of traditional publishing (and how they compare to indie publishing).

Part III: Results

***

In 2016, I begun the process of reclaiming my traditionally published books and republishing them myself. I thought it might be useful to document my reasons, particularly for those writers dawdling at this fork in the publishing road, trying to decide which way to go.

I originally published through a small press, and I don’t want to give the impression that this was a bad deal or that the publisher did anything wrong. It was, in fact, a valuable learning experience, especially for a new author and one as clueless as I. A small press may be the perfect publishing solution for many authors, especially if the words “traditionally published” carry personal weight.

Before I dig in, it’s important to state that – with a few exceptions – this was my experience. It reflects my personality, expectations, and quirks. What worked for me might not work for you and visa-versa. In addition, each publishing house is a unique entity represented by unique individuals. It’s reasonable to assume that my comments don’t apply to every small press!

So, what was great about my small press experience?

Hands-on relationships

I wrote a book without a blog and all the valuable online information available to authors. I did zero research on publishing, knew no published authors. Basically, I knew zip. Typical for me.

I can’t speak for mega-presses, but with my publisher, I received generous personal attention. I had tons of questions, sent daily emails, and received prompt replies. The process was laid out for me, contracts thorough and easily understood, my expectations set. It was comforting to know that my endless dumb questions and new-author anxiety were treated with respect and patience.

No Upfront Cost

When working with a traditional publisher, the professional services needed to bring a book to market come at no charge. This includes all facets of editing, proofing, cover design, formatting, obtaining ISBNs, and anything else you can think of. The publisher recoups the costs when the book goes for sale and they contractually take a portion of the revenue.  For a writer with few financial resources, upfront costs may be a factor. Besides not having any idea what I was doing, I also had a pitiful bank account. This way, all I had to do was write.

Professional Editing

When I “finished” my first book, I was part of a writer’s critique group. I applied all the suggestions of my cohorts, and my writing improved to the point that a publisher was interested. Yay for writers’ groups! Little did I know how much I still didn’t know.

The editing process commenced. The editor and I went back and forth for an entire year and made hundreds and hundreds of changes – literally. Working with a professional, I received invaluable lessons on the craft of writing. The process improved my book and armed me with a battery of tips to employ on future projects.

This process was highly collaborative, and I was grateful to be able to argue my case when I felt strongly about a point. I understand from a few colleagues that some publishers are less collaborative and some will exercise a contractual right to make the final call on changes.

Covers

As a clueless person, I had no resources for cover design. The publisher worked on the concept and sent me multiple drafts for comment. My contract allowed 3 changes at no charge though we made many small tweaks. I have heard that some publishing houses don’t request input on design and don’t allow changes. I know of one author who wrote a book about “coyotes” and the publisher put “wolves” on the cover. The author was stuck with the wolves.

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Contract Length

My contracts were for one year from the published date. This is a relatively short period when compared to contracts that span 3-5 years. The shorter contract is a boon in the event the relationship isn’t working, or the author or publisher wishes to terminate. My termination required a 90-day notice and there was no cost associated with ending the agreement.

My contracts were on a per-book basis with no commitment tying up future books. This is particularly important when writing a series or serial where a contract may commit future books to that publisher for the agreement’s term. An author may end up making do with the publisher or leaving books unpublished until the contract can be terminated. Contracts are important, and they aren’t all the same.

Paper Book Quality

Publishing houses will likely use printing services of a high quality. Personally, I’m satisfied with Amazon and the quality of their paperback books. However, printing houses will often have more size, style, and color options as well as better quality paper and bindings. Many professional print houses are not “print on demand” so there will be a sizable minimum order or set-up fee that may exceed what the author wants to invest. This was a significant challenge in my case.

So, Why Go Indie?

For someone who knew squat, my experience with a small press was highly instructive. The editing process improved my writing. The service was professional and respectful, the contracts fair.

Yet, publishing through a small press has significant pitfalls. As my knowledge and experience grew, it became evident to me that the challenges outpaced the advantages. Would I accept a contract with a big publishing house with a huge marketing department and a tasty advance? Um…yeah! But in the meantime, I’m going indie.

In Part II, I’ll explain why. Check it out HERE.

“Dead of Winter” is here!

Amazon Global Link

Teagan Geneviene has a new book, well… a serial of monthly novelettes that will tell one epic story. And the first “journey” is now available on Amazon. I read it in one sitting and reviewed it below. But first, I had a few questions for Teagan. We didn’t spoil the read, I promise.

Dead of Winter Interview

Dead of Winter has been in the works for over a decade. Why did you wait so long to release it, and why are you publishing this story in monthly novelettes?

I had been researching and then writing Dead of Winter for a couple of years.  Then Game of Thrones premiered on HBO and used a tag-line that I had woven throughout my novel — Winter is coming!  (I talk about that nightmare in a blog post.)  That coincidence caused me to shelve my huge novel.  However, the characters and world stayed with me.  Over the next decade, I considered dividing it into a trilogy, or making it into a blog serial.  I even fantasized about it becoming an anime series.  Still, I couldn’t escape the fact that George R. R. Martin had used the phrase that was core to my story.

After his television show ended, I decided I had let that hold me back long enough.  If my phrase wasn’t new, then I would present the novel in a new way — by publishing a monthly series of novelettes, or journeys (the characters journey through their complex world).  The original manuscript is longer than 800 pages, so I think it will run for at least a year.

Abraham Pether, Wikipedia

The first novelette introduces the reader to Emlyn, her restrictive culture, her teacher, and her world. What aspects of the world were the most interesting for you to craft?

Emlyn’s world in Dead of Winter is not a historic fantasy.  Although it looks and sounds similar to pre-industrial Great Britain and Europe.  I also researched all the names of the many characters and places so they would be reminiscent of those places.  I’m a research geek, so I loved creating that part.  More than 200 places and characters are mentioned in the overall story.

Many of your books are fun and whimsical in nature. This one feels more serious and dangerous. Was that a deliberate decision?

There are two parts to that answer — yes and no.  The difference in style was an evolution, rather than a decision. Before I started publishing and blogging, I wrote “high fantasy” stories.  I wrote this novel back then.  During the years since, my style has progressed to the lighter things you’re used to seeing from me.  When I started writing blog serials, those brought out a strong sense of whimsy.  The whimsy was always there, but in the past, it was expressed in a more serious way.

Also, I started writing Dead of Winter in the winter of 2009 – 2010.  I had recently relocated to a place where both the climate and the culture were much colder than I had ever experienced.  A historically harsh winter, and a personal injury set the tone of Dead of Winter.

Emlyn has paranormal abilities that set her apart. Tell us a little about the magic in this world.

The “dead” are a fundamental part of Dead of Winter, but the story is more about Emlyn and her world than it is about ghosts.  How to say it?  It’s more of a story with ghosts than an actual ghost story — if that makes any sense.

As a reader who studies the work of successful mainstream authors, I learned the value of making gradual increases in magic and/or violence.  Emlyn’s ability to communicate with spirits is the main “magic” of this story, but the tale grows into other forms of magic as well.  There are also supernatural creatures and there is some “earth magic.”

Do you have a favorite character and why?

This story was in my head for years.  Many of the characters became real to me.  One favorite is Tajín, a companion for Zasha.  I definitely had a crush on Tajín.  You won’t meet him until Journey 2.  I love his personality.  His home, Bandihar, is inspired by ancient civilizations in Mexico.  I enjoyed shaping his culture and letting it help develop his personality, even his weapon.

Review of Dead of Winter, Journey One

This story will unfold in monthly installments (Journeys), and in this first novelette, the author introduces the reader to the fantasy world, to the main protagonist, Emlyn, and to a few secondary characters who impact her life. I read this Journey in about an hour.

Emlyn lives with her father and sister in a rural village where the culture is patriarchal and restrictive, with women bearing the brunt of the harsh control. This doesn’t bode well for Emlyn who has the ability to see ghosts. Osabide, Emlyn’s elderly teacher and a wise woman reminds her not to share knowledge of her gifts with anyone, because her strange skill could cost her everything, including her life.

The story is told from Emlyn’s point of view, and the reader gets glimpses of her encounters with ghosts as well as a mysterious white wolf. The novelette raises questions, and there are teasers galore, including an underlying sense of danger. An excellent start to an epic tale, recommended to readers who enjoy fantasies and want to try a different sort of reading experience. I’m looking forward to the next Journey.

Teagan’s Links

Dead of Winter Global Link

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Teagan-Riordain-Geneviene/e/B00HHDXHVM
Twitter: https://twitter.com/teagangeneviene
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TeagansBooks
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/teagangeneviene/
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCoM-z7_iH5t2_7aNpy3vG-Q
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/teagangeneviene/

Happy Reading!

New Year, New Book, and New Review

A Journey Through Time…and Time Again

I’m taking a break from my break to bring you a highly recommended series and new release from blogger and writer, Kennedy J. Quinn (aka Sheri). I’ve read the first two books in The Unwitting Journeys of the Witty Miss Livingstone series and bugged Kennedy for a year regarding the third. Finally it’s out. My review is below, but before going there, I was curious:

My Question for Kennedy: One thing that I noticed (and loved) in the very first book, as well as in subsequent reads, is Miss Livingstone’s distinctive voice. I’d swear a proper and very witty young lady was whispering her thoughts and dialog into your ear. Where did this voice come from and why does it feel so authentic? Are you secretly Miss Livingstone?

Kennedy’s Answer: This question (or questions) made me laugh. I’m delighted Miss Livingstone comes through to you with the unique verve I feel from her as I write. I confess most of my characters live vibrantly for me. They appear to me fully formed with vivid personalities, and I usually know their names without hesitation.

But Miss Livingstone is special. In a sense she does whisper to me, because if I struggle to write her lines here and there, she instantly demands correction when I stray – as forcefully as her in-story character demands everything else. She abides no weakness, though she gives room for innate faults and quirks with no need for apology. Her wit surprises me – perhaps as much as it surprises you – jumping out from all directions as I’m writing (or you’re reading) along. She doesn’t miss much and, again, demands I add in her brilliance.

Where her voice comes from, you may think you know at this point… sheer lunacy on the part of the writer, perhaps? But no, I think I’m as sane as any other fiction writer who ‘hears’ their characters. That leaves plenty of room for speculation on where any story originates in human psyche.

But a bit of insight on my background: My Canadian mum raised my brother and I with proper manners infused into daily living. My household was atypically quiet, and we did a lot of reading, art projects and other creative things – so imagination always loomed large and clear for me. Conservative values fused with dry or absurd humor. My well-read family thrived on astute observations and witty turns of phrase. I came to love British literature, music, drama and humor. I read mostly classics as a child and often still choose them for ‘light reading.’ So older style English and grammar come naturally. Though I purposely fuse simpler, more direct phrasing into the Miss Liv Adventures series while working to maintain a classic-nostalgic feel to the style.

So am I secretly Miss Livingstone? Her respect for proper behavior, yet inability to fully abide within it, lives in me. And I’d like to think I carry her boldness of spirit lit with a genuine heart. But I wouldn’t do some of the things she does… What fun to imagine I could! This boisterous, impetuous Miss Caprice Livingstone has a life of her own that bursts from the page and keeps me wanting to turn the next one. I’m thrilled to present Book III: Dreams Key. And I can’t wait until she tells us all more!

Thanks for asking, Diana! I’m pleased you enjoy the books, and it’s my pleasure to be spotlighted on your blog. Much appreciated!

Diana’s Review:

Miss Livingstone’s steampunk world includes time travel as well as dimensional travel, and the butterfly-effect gets everything incredibly tangled. Hold on to your petticoats! Lizzie’s access to magical gemstones and keys drops her into her past and future as well as into other versions of her life. Imagine her shock at suddenly finding herself in Scotland, about to give birth.

Several things stood out for me with this read. One is the complex plot created by the time/dimensional travel. Miss Livingstone might be witty, but she also has to use her wits to avoid causing a mess. She’s not the only one traveling which adds layers to the mysteries and shenanigans.

As in all the books, the characterization is fun and beautifully authentic. I enjoy Miss Livingstone’s personality which is genteel while it pushes at the boundaries of propriety with her sneakiness, guffaws, and occasional snorts. In voice, language, and good manners she is straight out of 1910. The same authenticity applies to the secondary characters though she is the most entertaining as she barges full steam ahead into any and every situation.

Book 3 picks up at the moment Book 2 ends, and Quinn doesn’t waste any pages catching the reader up. I’d recommend reading the books without too much time between them in order to avoid confusion. Recommended to readers who enjoy steampunk and fantasy with a turn-of-the-century flair.

Sheri’s Links:

Amazon Author page for Kennedy J Quinn: https://www.amazon.com/Kennedy-J-Quinn/e/B01M7TO14L

Miss Liv Adventures website: https://misslivadventures.com/

Kennedy J Quinn Twitter: https://twitter.com/KennedyJQuinn

Kennedy J Quinn Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KennedyJQuinn

FreeValley Publishing / FVP Books website: https://freevalleypublishing.com/

The Unwitting Journeys of Miss Livingstone Global Links:

Book OneBook TwoBook Three!

Happy Reading!

Invisible Gifts

Pixabay image by Barbara A. Lane

This is my last post for a few weeks as I sign off for the holidays. I wish you all a happy holiday season filled with peace, love, and good health. May we have a new year full of kindness and hope. ❤

This poem is in response to the image Colleen Chesebro provided for her #Tanka Tuesday Challenge. The poem is a garland cinquain.

Bow Down

Bow down

to winter’s wheel

when sacred smoke ascends

blends in the hushed whiteness of breath

spirit

sleepless

gather our dreams

life’s unspoken secrets

tales of longing words of solace

unseen

our eyes

cannot behold

the warp and weft of love

nor peace and bliss, a swallow’s song

a chant

our hands

cannot unwrap

whispers of forgiveness

a prayer in a child’s heart

a hope

in grace

we surrender

to winter’s darkest night

the gifts of the invisible

renewed

bow down

gather our dreams

the weft and weave of love

a prayer in a child’s heart

renewed.

December Book Reviews, Part II

My 60-book Autumn Reading Challenge was a success, finishing with 5 days to spare!!

Here are final 6 reviews and a snapshot of all the wonderful books.

December’s Part II book reviews include my 4 and 5 star reads of YA fantasy, a paranormal anthology, short stories, and poetry! I hope you enjoy the browse.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Life is like a Bowl of Cherries: Sometimes Bitter, Sometimes Sweet by Sally Cronin

 I’m a fan of Cronin’s short stories and snagged this anthology the day it came out. The author describes it as a collection of short tales that reflect “the complexities of life, love, and loss.” That’s a fit description. There are stories of kindness, family, grief, courage, and second chances. The characters are ordinary and relatable, but they’re also extraordinary in those moments that define who they are as people.

The first story in the anthology, The Weekly Shopping, is hilarious if not a little ominous, but the rest of the selections are touching. Many are heartwarming, and I wanted to hug the characters. I enjoyed the whole collection but my favorites were: The Scratch Card, The Charity Shop, The Date, and The Gardening Assistant. Between the stories are selections of syllabic poetry. A crown cinquain entitled The Birds was just beautiful. I highly recommend this anthology to anyone who loves well-written short stories about life. 

*****

Perfectly Imperfect by Jacquie Biggar

What a delightful feel-good romance. This is an hour-long read, a fun foray into the contentious relationship between two business people, one trying to hold on to her dream company while the other one is tasked with selling it out from under her. Of course, sparks fly – the bad kind as well as the good.

I whipped through this book. The characters were colorful, both likable, and I loved their sarcasm and spats. The secondary characters were just right and wonderfully well-rounded for such a short book. The plot isn’t overly complex, and there isn’t any of the belabored drama-queen, helpless-female stuff that sometimes makes me roll my eyes. Instead, it struck me as carefully-crafted with just the right details to give a vivid sense of place, character, and action. Honestly, this spunky romance was one of the best I’ve read. Highly recommended.

*****

The Dome by Suzanne Craig-Whytock

Cee and Dee (named for their childhood designations of C and D) are young adult siblings who live on their own in a dystopian world where the “Fancies” reside in comfort and everyone else lives in tent cities or as near-slaves on agro-farms. Anyone who bucks the system is likely to end up at the Dome where they’ll fight other prisoners to the death. Crime is a means of survival and when Cee gets in trouble, his sister joins with other renegades to save him. But it doesn’t stop there! This plot has a lot going on.

The worldbuilding is extensive, and there’s a fair amount of backstory about the place and its history, peoples, and characters, usually relayed through stories. The pace varies, slower when filling in backstory and speeding up significantly during the action scenes and toward the story’s climax. Along with futuristic technology, there’s some quasi-magic too, particularly when it comes to Cee and Dee’s one-of-a-kind talents.

Cee and Dee are fully-drawn, emotionally rich characters with a close relationship. The first-person POV switches between them, and though they’re often separate from each other, they stay connected through their telepathic abilities. I didn’t quite believe that they weren’t aware of their other immense powers, but other than that, I was drawn into the story. An entertaining book for readers who enjoy awesome world-building and dystopian YA. I received a free copy of this book without any expectation of a review. (Paperback)

*****

Timeless Echoes Poetry by Balroop Singh

I’ve read Singh’s poetry books Magical Whispers, and Moments We Love, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. So, I decided to travel back in time a couple of years and dive into an older collection. The poems of Timeless Echoes reflect the poet’s same beautiful voice and reflective musings with a slightly more formal style.

The poems struck me as personal, a sharing of the many facets of love and relationships – the joys, but also the regrets and hurts, those which we carry with us, examine with older eyes, and come to know in a new way or let go. My favorites were the more free-flowing poems that struck a personal chord: Ageless Echoes, Illusional Calm, New Life, and A Letter. This generous collection of nearly sixty poems can be easily read in an afternoon, though they deserve to be savored.

Dolphin’s Cave by D. L. Finn

Coral is a teenager who’s lived with her aunt since her parents died in a mysterious plane crash in Hawaii. She has repeating dreams of riding dolphins to a golden city, but she always wakes up before the dream’s secrets are revealed. With another family, including their teenage kids, Ben and Beth, Coral and her aunt head to Hawaii for a vacation. Coral is determined to find out what happened to her parents and learn the meaning of her dreams.

The story is told from Coral’s POV. She’s a believable character and true to her age. There’s an appropriate focus on things teens enjoy, and her experiences with young love are sweet. She and her group enjoy some of the tourist-based highlights of Oahu and Maui, while in the background there are darker forces at work – several nefarious characters are spying on Coral and targeting her aunt.

The pace is moderate and the setting well researched. As the plot ramps up, the magical world of the golden city bursts in on an otherwise real-life narrative with all kinds of fantastical creatures like unicorns and dragons, healing powers and royalty. The murderous goals of the bad guys become clear as Coral learns the secrets of her dream and magical heritage. I was too “old” for this read, but do recommend it to tweens and young teenagers, especially girls

*****

Whispers of the Past: Wordcrafters Paranormal Anthology, Edited by Kaye Lynne Booth

This paranormal anthology includes 8 short stories from 6 authors, and I finished the read in a couple of hours. The stories varied widely from a horror-filled tale of untreated rabies in Missed Signs to a naïve and enthusiastic infatuation with a mermaid in Tanked. Other favorites included Partners in Time and A Peaceful Life I’ve Never Known, both exceptionally well-written. As with most anthologies, I appreciated some stories more than others, but they were all entertaining and thoroughly unique. Recommended to fans of paranormal short stories who are looking for an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.

*****

The books of the 60-Book Autumn Reading Challenge:

A total of 140 books read and reviewed in 2020, so far.

Happy Reading!

The Terrible Night Before Christmas

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A Christmas tale from 2014!

I thought it might produce a chuckle and a Ho Ho Ho.

The Terrible Night before Christmas

The whole escapade started with the black cat. Santa leaned forward in his rickety office chair, puffing on his stumpy pipe and wreathing his head in smoke. He pecked with two chubby fingers at his typewriter, finishing a last letter to a second-grader in the Bronx. The kid was bound for disappointment this year, the result of a spectacular imagination and a dose of new-fangled animation that left make-believe characters appearing plausible. A challenge for the elves who prided themselves on unabashed creativity.

Dear Chuck,

I hope you enjoy the train set, hand-carved by a master elf in my workshop. I realize you requested a live dragon, but creatures that breathe fire are not only exceedingly rare but generally discouraged in apartment buildings where they’re apt to smoke the place up if not burn it down. Be good and Merry Christmas.

Yours Truly,

Santa Claus

He slumped back in the worn seat, adding the letter to his “regrets” pile. That’s when the black cat appeared in the window, yowling to come in. How a cat haunted the North Pole in the midst of winter was beyond him. No doubt, a practical joke offered up by the elves who reveled in some idle time now that this year’s orders were filled. He’d have to remember to check the sleigh’s bench for Insta-Glue. Last year’s mischief had cemented his britches to the seat, requiring him to deliver gifts in his skivvies.

He cranked open the window to let the creature in, hoping a blast of bad luck didn’t blow in with the snow. Not that he was superstitious, but Christmas Eve was the wrong time for screw-ups.

Just then, the alarm clock on the mantel burst into a raucous version of Jingle Bells, jolting him into action. He quickly slipped on his black boots, red coat, and furry hat, crammed the letters in a back pocket, and kissed Mrs. Claus on the cheek before bolting out the door.

The sleigh stood ready, the reindeer harnessed and snorting in the crisp air. Behind the driver’s bench, the elves had wedged a dozen red sleds and a mountain of bulging sacks. Shiny bows and curlicues of ribbon peeked from the cinched openings, and the elves had sprinkled the entire load with magic dust as white as new-fallen snow.

Santa checked the seat and studied the reins. A quick inspection of the runners revealed not one string of tin cans, and he made certain the reindeer weren’t sporting cowbells. Finally, he hefted the bags of magic dust, and satisfied that they were full to the brim, he clambered up and took the reins for the long winter’s ride.

With deliveries to Canada wrapped up, Santa breezed through New England. He descended on New York long after the children were all nestled in their beds. He planned to zig-zag his way south to the tip of Patagonia and eventually west across the Pacific toward the International Date Line, the last leg of his journey. Despite the late hour, the Bronx sparkled. Light-entwined trees and storefront displays twinkled with color. Christmas trees glimmered behind darkened windows, and from above, the streetlights formed strands of holiday cheer.

The reindeer landed on the roof of Chuck’s apartment building, raising the ideal amount of clatter. Santa hopped down and did a few lumbar stretches for his back. He lifted a sack from the sleigh and reached into the final bag of magic dust, tossing a handful over his head. With a finger pressed to his nose, he nodded. And nothing happened.

Another handful. Nothing.

He tentatively licked a finger…”Sugar!” Santa scowled and shouted at the reindeer, “Those blasted elves are going to pay if I have to stuff every perky little head in the coal bin!”

After several minutes of ranting, he puffed up his rosy cheeks and blew out a sigh. He grabbed his set of emergency lock picks from the sleigh’s toolkit, slung the sack over a shoulder, and headed to the stairwell.

Quiet as a church mouse, he crept through the building, picking locks and sneaking into apartments. Dutifully, he ate gingerbread cookies and drank milk, packing carrots into his pockets. He stuffed carefully-hung stockings and unloaded his sack beneath the bright trees before tiptoeing back into the hallway and starting on the next door.

In Chuck’s apartment, the sugarplum cookies were homemade. Santa snacked first and then rearranged the presents beneath the tree, placing the train set and letter in front, and flanking it with gifts for the girls. He was just closing the door with a soft click when a light flipped on and he heard a tense voice, “Who’s there?”

Santa took off at a scamper, not glancing back as the apartment door opened. “Hey, you!” the voice yelled. “I’m calling the cops!”

As Santa ran, he cursed the naughty elves once again. In a panic, he burst through the building’s front door onto the snowy street and took off down the slick sidewalk, the bundle of toys bouncing on his back. His belly jiggled like jelly as he high-tailed it around a corner, trying not to slide into traffic. Police sirens wailed, and a horn honked as he dashed across the street. Ducking into a narrow alley, he tripped on a filthy snow pile, whirled into a trashcan, and landed flat on his back in the city’s ashes and soot. Lights flashed as a police car screeched into the narrow entrance.

The fluorescent lighting in the police station gave Santa a headache. A plastic tree sat atop a file cabinet, decorated with looped strings of popcorn, and the remnants of a holiday celebration littered the desks.

Santa’s interrogation hadn’t gone well, his candid explanation regarding recent activities rendering him fingerprinted, photographed, and handcuffed to an interview table. His captors were arranging for a mental health evaluation and overnight accommodations, prospects that didn’t bode well for Christmas.

“We’re booking you on breaking and entering,” the tired-eyed detective stated. “Do you have an attorney?”

“I was delivering presents,” Santa explained again.

The man sipped from a cup of black coffee and ate snowman cookies from a paper plate. “Want one?”

“No, thanks, I’ve already eaten about two billion.”

“Yeah, right.” The detective shook his head wearily. “So you were delivering presents with a lock pick. Isn’t Santa supposed to use magic?”

“Ordinarily, yes,” Santa assured the man. “But the elves gave me sugar instead of magic dust.”

“Uh huh.”

“They’re ruthless pranksters,” Santa explained. “Last year they glued me to the sleigh.”

“Uh huh. And the carrots we found stuffed in your pockets are for the reindeer?”

“Precisely.”

“What about the sack of presents?” the detective asked. “Some children are going to wake up without gifts under the tree.”

Santa heaved a sigh and scratched his cherry nose. “Only if I don’t finish my route. I’ve two continents to cover before dawn.”

“That’s only three hours from—“

The interview room door opened and a uniformed woman entered. She leaned over the table and whispered in the detective’s ear. His chin drew back as he frowned at her. “Is this a joke?”

“Nope. Eight tiny reindeer. I counted.”

“On the roof?”

She shrugged. “And a miniature sleigh filled with presents.”

“Stolen?” the incredulous man asked.

“No one’s missing anything,” she informed him. “In fact, they report unexplained gifts.”

“Holy…moly.”

While both officers stared at Santa, he raised his eyebrows and smoothed his white beard. “I have a route to finish if you don’t mind.”

“Uh…yeah…okay. I guess.” The detective unlocked his cuffs. The pair not only escorted him from the station but drove him back to the apartment building. With the officers in tow, he hiked the stairs to the snowy roof. The reindeer pranced and pawed their hoofs, impatient with the delay.

“You should probably get rid of this,” the detective said, handing him a folder. “We’ll just pretend it never happened if that’s alright with you.”

Santa accepted the folder, and after they removed the yellow police tape from the sleigh, he passed each of them a gift from his sack. “Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas,” the two murmured in unison.

With a twinkle of his eye, Santa mounted his sleigh. He whistled and shouted the reindeer’s names. Eagerly, the team dashed to the edge of the roof and leapt. The sleigh dipped, and then the harnesses snapped taut as the reindeer flew up over the city rooftops with their sleigh full of toys.

As the dawning sky pearled the horizon, Santa left the team in the elves’ care, too tired at the moment to exact his revenge. Mrs. Claus met him at the door and took the folder as he unbuttoned his coat and kicked off his boots. “My, my,” she exclaimed. “Here’s one for the photo album.”

Santa glanced at his mug shot as he plotted this year’s retaliation, a merry grin curving his lips like a bow. “Ho, ho, ho, ho, ho.”

December Book Reviews, Part I

My 60-book Autumn Reading Challenge speeds toward the finish line. I’ve read and reviewed 54 books!!

Ten days to read 6 more. Piece of Cake!

December’s Part I book reviews include my 4 and 5 star reads of fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal fiction, thrillers, a memoir written by a dog, poetry, and a children’s book! I hope you enjoy the browse.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Snow White and the Civil War: Survival of the Fairest by Cathleen Townsend

Clearly, from the title, this is a fairy tale retelling, and though the story of Snow White is recognizable in the book, this tale has enough originality and enhancements to rise above the Disney version. No singing mice here; instead there’s a young woman named Gwen trying to survive in California at the start of the Civil War.

Like in the fairy tale, Gwen flees her evil stepmother (and her mirrors) and finds a new home with seven dwarfs who dig for gold in the mines. Gwen keeps house and cooks while the industrious dwarfs keep her safe. The story diverges from the classic tale as Gwen’s desire to pull her weight encourages her to excel at her domestic skills as well as learn new ones. Life is pretty wonderful, and so is love, until the war and her stepmother get in the way.

An underlying theme of the story is the vital role frontier women played in the forming of the country. That said, there’s plenty of magical and real danger, and Gwen has a strong character arc. The narrative includes less-known historical facts about California’s role in the Civil War. It’s also full of details about the mid-1800’s, including homesteading and survival skills.

Townsend does a good job of differentiating between the dwarfs. Told in first person from Gwen’s POV, she’s the character that I got to know best. She’s well rounded, emotionally believable, and her sensibilities are true to the time period. The pace is moderate, and the book ends with a cliff-hanger, so be prepared to dive into Book 2 (Snow White and the Civil War: Plot of Gold). Recommended to YA and adult readers who enjoy fairy tale retellings and stories about frontier women.

*****

Snow White and the Civil War: Plot of Gold by Cathleen Townsend

This book is Part 2 of the Snow White and the Civil War tale, which should be read in order. It switches its POV from Gwen (Janet/Snow White) to Jack (the Prince Charming who isn’t so charming and needs to grow up quite a bit). The timelines of the stories overlap slightly though the characters don’t meet again until later in the book. The story diverges from the traditional fairytale in that Jack has a complete story of his own – as opposed to the largely absent prince in the childhood versions I read.

Having left Janet heartbroken, Jack’s goal is to impress his father by making a successful business for himself. At the same time the Civil War is looming, and California’s gold can make or break the war depending on whose pockets it fills. The politics of the time are well-researched and play a greater role in the story than they did in the first book. Jack’s efforts on behalf of the Union run parallel to his growing up and growing deeper, which I liked as his primary arc. He’s a three-dimensional character, as are a number of secondary characters.

The pace picks up alongside the action. Toward the conclusion, the story transitions back into the Snow White tale, and the evil stepmother makes her reappearance. All the plot threads come together nicely for a satisfying conclusion. Recommended to readers who enjoy fairy tale retellings, historical fiction, Civil War fiction, and books set in the American west.

*****

Patient Zero by Terry Tyler

I’ve been avoiding pandemic books (since there’s enough of that going around in real life these days), but decided to give this collection of nine short stories a try. Great decision (pats self on back). All of the stories take place in the same world, a place being ravaged by a “bat virus.” They read like vignettes, and I was completely drawn in by the characters and their situations. It was fascinating and chilling at the same time.

Each story focuses on a different character, often living through a different stage of the pandemic. Some of them are alone, others with family or friends. Some are highly prepared, others not so much. What I really enjoyed about the collection was how unique each story was and how believable! Yikes. I could absolutely see these tales happening in my neighborhood.

The deadly pandemic is the driving force behind the stories, but the characters bring their own situations, logic, and emotions into their choices. Not all of them survive, despite the best of plans, and for those who do, the world will never be the same. This isn’t a long read, and I recommend it to sci fi fans who enjoy a fictional pandemic and great writing.

*****

The Glamourist by Luanne G. Smith

I really enjoyed The Vine Witch and picked up this continuing story about Elena, a vine witch, and Renard, her fiancé and a vineyard owner. They’ve left the vineyard for the city to assist Yvette, a young woman on the lam from the law who’s trying to discover her magical abilities, protect a treasured book, and find out why she was abandoned as a child.

The plot is too complex to summarize, but it’s well laid out without any confusion. There are a number of characters with competing goals, and the story unfolds like a mystery as paths cross, clues are deciphered, and magic revealed. With witches, jinnis, eccentric mortals, criminals, and a magical cat, things get interesting fast.

One of the best parts is the world-building. This is a society (city) where witches are everywhere among the mortals. They own businesses and their magical abilities are strictly governed by the laws of the Covenants Regulation Bureau. It’s rather wonderful and fascinating, and both witches and mortals have their law-abiding citizens and criminals. Characters are rich and varied, and I enjoyed the author’s creativity when differentiating between them.

The writing is superb with a snappy pace. I’d suggest starting with The Vine Witch, though this book can be read as a stand-alone. A great choice for fantasy readers.

Crown of Coral and Pearl by Mara Rutherford

The start of this fantasy is all about being beautiful, going to a ball, and marrying a prince. The shallowness of the characters almost made me put the read down. But I hung in there, and lucky for me, things started going wrong, and they continued going wrong. Before I knew it, I was hooked.

In an act of kindness, Nor, a feisty young woman, switches places with her demure twin sister, Zadie, and heads from her sea-stilt village into the mountains to marry Prince Ceren. Not only is Ceren sickly and cruel, but he has brutal plans for her people in his lust for the healing pink pearls that they alone provide. Nor is determined to save her home even at the cost of her life.

The pace moves along well, and there’s plenty of action as well as a touch of romance. The plot is well constructed, integrating key parts of the worldbuilding. I like it when the fantasy elements play a role in the story and aren’t just background. Nor is a great character, unable to keep her mouth shut and ultimately unable to keep the prince from learning her secrets. She’s a well-rounded character as is Ceren and his brother Talin (Nor’s love interest).

The story is told from Nor’s first person POV, which unfortunately requires some “telling” at the conclusion when Talin has to explain a bunch of political secrets and maneuvering. But other than that, I thoroughly enjoyed this read. Recommended to fantasy fans who like a well-crafted tale with lots of action and a touch of romance.

*****

Desolation Bluff by Toni Pike

Oliver is a successful romance writer and happy newlywed. His wife, Vanessa, is his writing assistant, and his best friend Ray handles promotion. But Oliver is also blind, and what he doesn’t see is the way Vanessa and Ray roll their eyes at him and touch each other’s hands across the table. Then a freak accident returns Oliver’s sight. Before he can tell the two most important people in his life about the miracle, he discovers them in the throes of passion. His ability to see becomes his secret, and the tables turn.

The characters started off a touch flat for me, but they didn’t stay that way for long. As soon as Oliver gets his sight back, things get very interesting, very fast. Oliver is quite crafty and when a distant relative, Ferris, shows up at Oliver’s estate, she joins in the scheming. Things escalate like crazy and grow out of everyone’s control. The pace is great and the plot well-conceived.

The characters are varied and interesting, all of them flawed. Even Vanessa and Ray, despite their deceptions, don’t seem to start out with murderous intentions. And Oliver, in many ways the victim, makes vengeful choices with disastrous results. This book is a quick read that I polished off in a morning. Recommended for anyone who enjoys thrillers.

*****

Sam: A Shaggy Dog Story by Sally Cronin

This read is a little more than an hour, but it’s an hour of cuteness and laughs. I’ve lived with dogs for most of my life, and the attitudes and antics of Sam, a Collie, were delightfully familiar. This tribute to a dog’s life is narrated by Sam himself, starting when he was a newborn and stretching into his old age. I rarely laugh out loud while reading, and this book was an exception.

Sam has a very funny (as well as adorable) perspective on life with accounts of his cat friend Henry, his love of chicken and sausages, his dislike of veterinarians, his job as a paper shredder, and his occasional encounters with “that Bloody Danny,” a little canine with poor manners. He relays his experiences with “cat speak” as well as his acquisition of several human words which are strategically employed to earn pieces of cheese.

The book is organized into short chapters by topic. This is a lighthearted and endearing read for anyone who loves dogs.

*****

Thistledown: Midsummer Bedlam by Teagan Geneviene

I read most of this book when it was a blog serial, and since I missed several episodes, it was a pleasure to sit down and read the finished story from end to end. Geneviene has a great imagination, and this tale of fairies is chock full of delightful magic. The sheep float, cherries roll into the bakery in single file, and there are hallucinating bats. This doesn’t even begin to touch on the fairy names which are a hoot all by themselves (Bedlam Thunder, Catseye Glimmer, and Peaches Dragonfly to name a few). And then there’s the hummingbird with the “strange” name Bob.

Bedlam Thunder is the main character and a seer. She has a vision of a colorless, parallel world, and little by little it’s seeping into Thistledown. There are magic books, doppelgangers, hornless unicorns, and kissing fish called suckers. Somehow, Bedlam and Bob have to figure out how to save Thistledown from the insidious drabness.

The story fishtails through this marvelous fairy world. Don’t look for carefully plotted action or lots of time spent ruminating on the meaning of life. For me, the enjoyment of the story was derived from the imaginative jaunt through this fairy world. I recommend this story to children and adults. It’s a quick read and lots of fun. 

*****

Mr. Sagittarius by M. J. Mallon

I didn’t know what to expect when I opened this book, and must have been in just the right mood, because it was charming and poignant and very sweet. The book offers a glimpse of three elderly siblings -William, Harold, and Annette – one already passed on at the books opening. The intermittent visits with these characters, a paragraph or two here and there, form the thread that holds the book’s narrative together. The memories and grief are touching, and it isn’t long before Annette is on her own.

Between the story’s visits with the siblings are loosely related sections of prose and syllabic poetry. Some pieces touch on the seasons. Others are fantastical tales about bubble monsters and snow snakes. Most of them are about nature and flowers which are tied to the garden bench where the siblings enjoyed their days. I especially enjoyed a chain cinquain titled That Twinkle in her Eye is Magic. This book is less than an hour’s read, and I recommend it to readers who enjoy a fanciful and touching foray into poetry and short prose selections.

*****

Whispers of Dawn by Celestine Nudanu

This modest collection of poetry took under an hour to read, and what a worthwhile way to pass the time. The author explains that the form of her poems is called a cherita, a Malay word for story or tale. It consists of six lines broken into three stanzas.

In these small poems, the poet shares her personal truths and depth of experience. Like all short poetry word choice is deliberate and evocative. The collection is broken into seven themes, some light and hopeful, others dark and full of loss: Whispers, Making Love, The Dark Side of Love, Death, Saving Grace, Random Thoughts.

I could have jotted down a dozen favorites, but included two below. Recommended for readers who enjoy short poetry.

***

I cried

the night you left
only once

not because of the cold pillow
but for the stars
that refused to shine.

***

stillness of night

rustle of silk, silvery whispers
draw me to the window

I peep
God’s presence
Amongst the stars

*****

Murtle the Purple Turtle by Cynthia Reyes

Murtle is a unique turtle – she’s purple. And when another turtle points out to her that she’s different, she does everything she can to change her color to green – all to no avail. Then, with the help of her friends, she learns that turtles comes in a lot of different colors, and that being purple is wonderful. The story’s message of self-acceptance and diversity is perfect for young children. and the vivid illustrations are a delight. I recommend this sweet book to preschoolers and their parents.

*****

Happy Reading!